12:57:13 pm on
Wednesday 19 Jun 2024

Thoughts from Away
David Simmonds

Top left, Niagara, Ontario. Top right; Niagara-on-the-Lake;
Bottom: Rideau Canal in Ottawa.

My wife and I recently spent a few days in the Niagara, Ontario, region, followed by a trip to visit family in Ottawa. We visited Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake, as most tourists do. Both visits made me think about Wellington, Ontario.

Too neat and clean.

The lilacs along the Niagara Parkway were in full bloom. The butterfly conservatory is an experience that is not tiring. I did find it quite easy to tire of the number of people taking selfies, with butterflies lightly perched on their limbs or torsos.

Then we visited Niagara-on-the-Lake. It was picture perfect. There was not a hair out of place.

Municipal workers came by, with scissors in hand, to micro-trim the plants in the street planter, and rushed to sweep up any stray piece of litter that had fallen from the wayward hand of a tourist; locals, I presume, know better. The stores, such as the Christmas shop, the Irish shop, the Kitchen shop, the Hat’shop and the Candy shop, aligned in a row, presenting elegantly understated displays to lure you in off the street. In short, it was all too neat and tidy for me.

If you want neat and tidy, you can have it. I prefer a little bit of grit and grime with my heritage touristing. I’d sooner visit Saint Catharines, Ontario, to see the lake freighters go through the narrow locks of the Welland Canal than watch the yachts at the Niagara-on-the-Lake marina. I rather go to nearby Thorold, a municipality whose heritage main street helped it win the Prince Charles prize for municipal heritage leadership in 2017, even though it has its share of tattoo parlours and derelict buildings.

It makes me appreciate Wellington even more. We are not afraid to mix and match, to open a chic motel right across the street from a slaughterhouse, for instance. Wellington is a working village at the same time as it’s a tourist attraction. It has a mix of heritage homes and newer homes, of everyday homes and mansions. Wellington is real. It needn’t change just to suit the visitor who wants neat and tidy.

Then we visited Ottawa, the capital of Canada. After the city has been busy this year surviving tornados and floods, a pleased-looking mayor, Jim Watson, announced, on Friday, how the city had officially grown to a million residents. Residents of Ottawa were more sanguine.

Ottawa, pothole capital of Canada.

Residents noted how the roads have not kept up with the increased traffic in the city. How the light rail project, the latest addition to the public transit system, is still not active, after more than a one-year delay and four missed deadlines. Residents also spoke of accelerating housing prices and a surge in violent crime.

The lesson learned from the experience of Ottawa, even if led by a competent mayor. Be careful of your wishes. A population increase carries baggage.

I realize Wellington Country is not in the same league as Ottawa. I doubt a surge in violent crime is anywhere near our horizon. Countywide, the current population is 24,735, according to the 2016 census; we should be able to pass 25,000 and, if all goes well, maybe hit 30,000 in a few years. Wellington will be pleased when it makes it up from the seemingly permanent 1,700 announced on our welcome signs to 2,000; 2,500 is perhaps a stretch target.

The Wellington Times published numerous commentaries emphasizing the need for growth in our tax base and it is surely true that planning not to grow is a route to certain decline. Fortunately, there are two new 400+-unit developments at the north end of the village ready to move off the drawing board, the “Fields of Wellington,” by Alan Hirschfield and Beth Johnson, and “Illusions: Country Club Living,” by Kaitlin Corporation.

Putting the infrastructure in place to handle that development will be a challenge. Will the County be able to shape infrastructure costs so that the burden will not fall entirely on the current tax base? On the other hand, will the County be responsible enough to incur the necessary costs to meet the expected demands of an increased population?

There is probably a natural limit on the population that Wellington can handle. Physical plant constraints, farmland preservation concerns, limited road maintenance budgets, service shortages or other factors will determine the limits of growth of the County. I don’t imagine we are near the upper limit, yet.

Growth and tourism.

There may be a limit for tourism; a point where potential tourists begin to resist the lure of Wellington. When, for example, they see subdivisions around that quaint little village that drew them precisely because it didn’t have any subdivisions. What the heck, if you can tolerate a slaughterhouse across the street from your motel, you should be able to tolerate a subdivision or two.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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